Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is strongly pushing for the White House to name Jerome Powell as the next chair of the Federal Reserve – the most powerful economic job in the U.S. government, according to three people close to the selection process.
Mnuchin has privately recommended Powell to President Donald Trump, according to one adviser close to the administration.
The people familiar with the process indicated that Mnuchin, who knows Powell well, feels comfortable with him and feels like Powell is a safe pick over whom he can exert some measure of influence.
The Fed Chair is set up to operate independently from the White House and and Congress, with stewardship over monetary policy and many critical financial regulations.
Trump has not settled on any candidate yet, two administration officials said, though he is expected to announce his choice in the next few weeks to ensure a nominee is in place by the time current Fed chair Janet Yellen’s term expires in February.
The White House and Treasury declined to comment on any specific names floated for the Fed chair.
Several people close to the process confirmed that the White House list has been whittled down to four candidates: Powell, a current Federal Reserve governor; Yellen, who was confirmed to the position under President Barack Obama in 2014 and is eligible to be reappointed; Gary Cohn, Director of the National Economic Council and former top banker at Goldman Sachs; and Kevin Warsh, a former Fed governor and fellow at the Hoover Institution who spent years as an investment banker at Morgan Stanley.
The administration is taking the choice of the Fed chair extremely seriously, viewing it as on par with its Supreme Court selection, said one White House official.
“Each of the prior Fed chairs have presided over a pretty major change in the economy. It’s important that we find someone who demonstrates the capability to navigate different scenarios,” said the White House official. “We’re looking for someone who is able to handle anything that comes at them and who can work well with other members of the board.”
The process has been led by a very tight circle of four administration officials including Mnuchin; Jeremy Katz, deputy director of the National Economic Council; Andrew Olmem, special assistant to the president for financial policy; and Johnny DeStefano, director of presidential personnel. Cohn was initially part of the process until Trump publicly named him in an interview with the Wall Street Journal as a potential candidate. Cohn then recused himself from the selection process.
Olmem has been particularly focused on the Federal Reserve nomination since he joined the White House in February, said the White House official.
Trump’s nominee will need to be confirmed by the Senate, with the Banking Committee leading the hearings.
Although Mnuchin privately has been advocating for Powell, he’s not the only official or outside adviser pressing Trump on this issue.
If Trump does end up selecting Powell to lead the central bank, it would mean bringing on a seasoned veteran unlikely to make drastic changes at the Fed.
Powell is a Republican who worked in George H.W. Bush’s Treasury Department and later in private equity. Unlike Yellen, he was trained as a lawyer rather than an economist, though he has worked in the financial world for most of his career.
Since he joined the Fed board in 2012, he has worked with Yellen, and her predecessor, Ben Bernanke, to craft the central bank’s monetary and regulatory policy in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis.
Powell, 64 – who goes by the nickname “Jay” – made clear last week that his priorities are aligned with those of the president, who has consistently called for sustained 3 percent GDP growth.
“The biggest challenge we face as a country is to do what we can to increase the sustainable growth rate of the U.S. economy,” he said at an event hosted by George Washington University Law School and Reuters. “Just another percentage point, for example, would make dramatic differences in people’s lives over time.”
Powell spent eight years as a partner at private equity firm Carlyle Group, giving him the private sector bona fides admired by Trump. He is “a bit older, silver-haired, who fits the image of the senior, distinguished Fed chair,” said Ian Katz, an analyst with Capital Alpha Partners.
Warsh, 47, is married to Jane Lauder, whose father, cosmetics billionaire Ronald Lauder, is a long-time friend of Trump’s. Warsh is still considered a strong contender but some sources close to Trump say the president is concerned about his relative youth. Cohn was the leading candidate for the Fed job until he criticized Trump’s response to protests in Charlottesville, Va., leading to a cooling of his relationship with the president.
Before starting work at the Fed, Powell was a visiting scholar at the Bipartisan Policy Center, where he wrote about fiscal issues. Early in his career, he worked at the former investment bank Dillon, Read & Co. in New York.
The Washington, native has already had a significant impact on the Fed under Trump. In April, he took over as the Fed’s point man on bank regulation after the resignation of Fed Governor Daniel Tarullo. In that role, Powell has been nudging the central bank toward fewer and simpler rules on small and regional banks, as well as some changes that would benefit the largest lenders.
“There is certainly a role for regulation, but regulation should always take into account the impact that it has on markets–a balance that must be constantly weighed,” he said in a speech on Oct. 5. “More regulation is not the best answer to every problem.”
Ian Katz said Powell’s outsized role this year in regulatory policy means he would probably have more of a hand in that area than some of the other candidates who had been considered for the Fed chair job. The Senate on Oct. 5 confirmed a former colleague and close friend of Powell’s, Randal Quarles, to the top regulatory position, making that type of collaboration even more natural.
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